There’s a lot of bad sales advice, and some of the worst surrounds the close!
There’s an awful lot of bad sales advice floating around out there right now. Sometimes I think that our profession is caught right between people advocating old-time sales tactics that just don’t work anymore, and other people trying to be ‘hip’ and ‘techno-savvy’ by focusing on social networking as the all-encompassing solution for everything – but that doesn’t work either.
A prime example of this is a recent column by Hal Becker in the Kansas City Business Journal talking about the popular “when to close” topic. Hal’s answer – fueled by his Xerox sales training and illustrated by a personal anecdote of his experience in 1976 – was that the salesperson should always be closing. This the old A/B/C (Always Be Closing) philosophy has done more to kill sales and irritate customers than anything else salespeople do. There’s a right way, though, and let’s find it, shall we?
It’s appropriate that Hal’s anecdote was from 1976; A/B/C is very much a 1970’s sales approach. For that matter, so is the Xerox approach. The old Xerox approach, heavy with tactics, pressure, and technique, worked back when Xerox dominated its market. Today? Not so much. Today’s customers are more savvy, more educated, have more information available to them, and ultimately have been trained by years of salespeople using heavy sales tactics, and are more capable than ever to resist. This means that today’s customer responds to an approach that is more customer-friendly and respectful.
First, let’s look at what it takes for a customer to buy:
- The customer must be motivated; i.e. the customer has a need that he/she wishes to solve through a purchase.
- The customer must have investigated that need; the customer and the salesperson must both understand the need, and your product must fulfill it (and the customer must agree that your product fulfills it).
- The customer must trust you.
- The customer must believe what you say (i.e. you have credibility in the customer’s eyes).
- The customer must respect you.
- The customer must not dislike you (I know that conventional wisdom says the customer must like you, and certainly that’s a huge help – but I’ve found it’s better to seek respect and trust that is genuine than to seek a like and friendship that is phony).
- You must have presented a proposal that is to the customer’s liking.
- The trouble with the A/B/C approach is that it interferes with several of these things. Closing is the part of the sales process where customers are most likely to put up defenses; if you are always in some phase of a close, your customers will be defending themselves too much to be able to give you the candid answers you need to be able to match your products to their needs. Closing too early will interfere with trust and credibility, as well; the customer will perceive you as reaching for their wallet. (Answer to the old question: Why do customers perceive salespeople as pushy? Because too many are.)
Instead, today’s salesperson must have patience as part of the selling/closing process. To assess motivation, accurately assess needs, present your product, check customer agreement, build trust, etc. takes time. Sometimes it can all be done within a single sales call, but even those sales calls can get long. It’s very important that you are patient enough to allow the customer to move through their buying process properly (see my book, Sell Like You Mean It!, for more on this) and get to the closing arena at the same time you do.
Once you are at this point, the close becomes a natural part of the sales process, and how you ask for the business matters less than the actual asking. What’s better is that, by handling this in a customer-friendly manner, you are more likely to get invited back for repeat sales opportunities! Isn’t that better than a one-shot quick close?
Just because it worked for Xerox in 1976 doesn’t mean it will work for you today. Success in today’s selling arena requires a different approach.